February 17th, 2007

operesque

The frailty of megavisual flow

When art critic Peter Fuller talked about the "megavisual tradition" -- meaning television, advertising, billboards and so on -- he seemed to take it for granted that no art could ever be that huge and powerful. Artists like Victor Burgin could spoof advertising, but advertising would never concern itself with anything so small as a visual artist.

And yet in retrospect we see the utter frailty of the mega-visual tradition. Part of a flow-culture, anchored in the ephemeral moment, bound up with products long-since forgotten, these seemingly-omnipotent posters and TV ads have mostly been swept away. It's now much easier to find a Victor Burgin image on the internet than, say, a 1970s Stork SuperBlend ad. The tables have turned -- posterity gives art the last laugh.



Or does it? Something extraordinary is happening in the age of Web 2.0. The ephemeral is gaining the upper hand again. When YouTube first went up, there was hardly anything there. But amazingly quickly this empty larder has been stocked with increasingly obscure snippets. Not only can anyone with a computer now see rare clips of David Bowie (at the height of his beauty) on the Dinah Shore Show in 1975 -- something you could once only see at some friend's house, a friend who'd ordered the tape from a bootlegger -- but there are dozens of, for instance, 1970s Japanese TV ads. Once these rarities would have been less accessible than, say, David Bowie's 1975 album or the Toshiba TVs they advertised. Now they're much more accessible than the art or the products of the day. The once-ephemeral flow of long-forgotten TV is being restored, here and there, in dots and spots, like a long-lost Renaissance mural. We'll never get the whole picture, of course, but it's a glimpse.



This megavisual flow is still a frail one. The tape wobbles, the colours bleed, the businesses advertised have long since gone belly up. And it's precisely this frailty which makes many of these ads so attractive. They need us now, more than ever, to save them from death, oblivion, obscurity. Like pathetic ghosts clad in the absurd, tattered fashions of another age they call to us, ask us to give them a second life as curios, souvenirs, comedy turns, anything.



Japan National Railway campaign "Discover Japan"

Misono restaurant, Osaka (wonderful experimental music)

Kimono Musume

Lotte Chocolate

Nozawana Chazuke

Various ad reel

Sun TV ads (businesses too small to be able to afford today's TV ad rates)

Takarazuka Onsen (Western men in the sauna, someone tell Debito!)

Sake Ohzeki

Shihokaku Tourism



Kao Popinzu detergent comparison (Mary Poppins reference? This detergent doesn't exist any more; it became New Poppins, then disappeared, washed clean out of the market.)

Toshiba's corporate anthem, which goes:

Flashing, flashing, Toshiba
Spinning, spinning, Toshiba
Running, running, Toshiba
Singing, singing, Toshiba
Everything is Toshiba, the mark of Toshiba!

All these videos are hosted by just one YouTube user, Dorataro. So I suppose the internet revival of flow is even more frail than the original television flow used to be. Dorataro would just have to pull the plug on these ghosts and they'd fly away back to their electronic graveyard.